When Donald Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals (save for, he assumed, some good ones), there was widespread outrage.
When he talked about banning Muslim immigration to the United States, many establishment Republicans castigated him. And though Islamophobic comments by Cruz, Walker, Carson and other GOP candidates haven’t generated the backlash they merit, they have received heavy criticism, including from Republicans.
But there’s one marginalized group, it seems, that can be demonized with impunity: Palestinians.
If the generalizations made about Palestinians were applied to Hispanics, blacks, Jews or LGBTQ people, it would be described as hate speech. You’d be hearing about it on the morning shows and seeing it emblazoned on banners across news sites.
But when applied to Palestinians, it somehow becomes a cause for standing ovations, not public condemnations. And worryingly, it seems it’s becoming a central feature of how GOP candidates attempt to appeal to Jewish voters.
At AIPAC’s Policy Conference, John Kasich kicked off the Monday night proceedings by informing the audience that Palestinians, “cannot continue to promote a culture of hatred and death.” Trump said some children have athletes and entertainers for heroes. But in Palestinian society, the heroes are those “who murder Jews.” Cruz described a “relentless campaign of incitement that has fostered genocidal hatred towards Jews.”
Huge applause lines. And they were not talking about the internal culture of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or radical elements of Fatah. They were talking about Palestinians broadly.
There can be no debate that incitement is a major problem in Gaza and the West bank and that many Palestinian leaders have failed to combat it — or worse, have encouraged it. Official PA television airs anti-Semitic programming. And though the Shin Bet continues to applaud Mahmoud Abbas for combatting terror, he has too often been derelict in condemning it when it happens. J Street has taken him to task for this, and more of the international community should as well. There can be no excuses for encouraging or accepting terrorism.
But we learn at a young age not to judge entire peoples by the actions of a few. And for anyone who missed that lesson, all it takes is the smallest of interactions with everyday Palestinians to dissolve the fiction that their entire culture is one of hatred and death.
Many Americans, unfortunately, (and in fact, many Israelis outside army service) have never met everyday Palestinians. Instead, their views of Palestinians are guided by the display at AIPAC and others like it, including the RJC forum and Republican debates.
That’s why it is so disturbing throughout Monday night’s AIPAC plenary featuring Paul Ryan, John Kasich, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, Palestinians were only mentioned in the context of terrorism and as enemies of Israel. And that’s a critical point. Because any defense that these candidates were only talking about some Palestinians is betrayed by their descriptions of a pervasive Palestinian ‘culture’ of death and hatred and the refusal to acknowledge the vast majority of Palestinians who simply yearn for peace and prosperity.
There’s a running joke about the “AIPAC speech,” designed to appeal to hawkish Jewish voters. This speech tends to include adulation for Benjamin Netanyahu, a commitment to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and various reaffirmations of the bond between Israel and the United States. This year’s speeches indicate that, at least for Republicans, sweeping hatred for Palestinians has become an additional hallmark of the “AIPAC speech.”
The candidates presumably say these things because they believe that they are appealing to Jewish voters. But we know that, outside of a consistently small proportion of the Jewish electorate, they’re not.
The vast majority of American Jews reject Cruz’s, Kasich’s and Trump’s mischaracterization of Palestinians. But the narrative that you can appeal to Jewish voters by denigrating Palestinians persists. And we have to take responsibility for combatting it. While groups have lined up to condemn Trump’s comments on a host of marginalized groups, who has stepped forward to defend the Palestinian people against the same attacks?
The way the Palestinians are being talked about this election cycle should be a moment of reckoning. How have we decided that it’s acceptable for hate speech to be a staple of pro-Israel speeches?
If they really want a lesson in creating a “culture of hate,” perhaps these GOP candidates should take a look in the mirror. And if the American Jewish community is serious about our values and about our commitment to dialogue and peace, we cannot give a pass to hate speech against the Palestinian people.